How to Get the Best Results from Your Food Marketing Research

As food marketers, we live with the constant pressure of needing to intimately understand consumer perceptions and behaviors at every turn. But achieving status as a food futurist is no easy task. To acquire the depth of knowledge required in today’s constantly changing environment, we must continually improve our analytical skills and arm ourselves with an arsenal of research tools to achieve results that deliver value and insight.

The reality for most CMO’s is that marketing decisions are largely data-driven in this day and age. However, using data alone to understand our consumer’s behaviors on their path to purchase is not enough. Since behaviors don’t exist behind a desk or on a data sheet, it’s imperative we integrate methods into our process that provide us with context. This effort brings to light the behavioral nuances of our consumers, adds color to our data, turns facts or figures into actionable insights, informs big ideas, and powers strategy. More often than not, these insights are achieved at the intersection of quantitative and qualitative approaches.

Although data is a crucial element of understanding consumer behavior, only when you surround it with context does it become useful, relevant, and stand a chance of providing any valuable insight. Judd Antin, Director of Research at AirBnB, articulated this conundrum best when he said, “Data is powerful, but it has no soul. It is necessary, but insufficient, for good strategy and good products.”

So what gives data soul? A human touch.

Today I’m exploring three key consumer touch points on your typical path to purchase and look at some of the innovative ways food marketers are listening to consumers in order to provide them with customer-centric and highly personalized marketing communications. Applying these to your marketing programs will help you uncover consumer insights for maximum marketing and business impact.

Point of Purchase

The fact is, consumers are craving a more convenient, engaging, and personalized shopping experience. Amazon is one retailer that is obviously listening and responding.

It’s no secret that with the acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon has become the poster child for a new era of grocery retail. And by leveraging the wealth of digital information they’ve collected from their Prime customers, Amazon can now serve up contextually relevant real-time communications to them at point-of-purchase. Calling this approach their “hybrid retail strategy”, they’ve found a way to seamlessly support the customer’s instore experience by conveniently providing them with comparative research information, targeted sales and promotions, and efficiency tools such as shopping lists and wish lists.

Not all food marketers are blessed with an Amazon-sized budget. But there are still opportunities for gathering insights about consumer preferences in order to add value to their shopping experience. One approach is a mix of mobile first technology and consumer segmentation. Using existing data, you segment consumers to further collect information on their shopping behaviors like brand loyalty, how price sensitive they are, or even how they use your product. Ultimately, you can deliver a customized experience by providing the right messages at the right place at the right time – both virtually and in-store. In the case of brand-loyal customers, reward them with information about special promotions or events as appreciation for their patronage. Your price-driven consumers may respond best to coupons or promotions you offer on their mobile phones while they shop. Or, you may find that consumers have a specific usage application for your product during certain times of the year and use this insight to deliver digital messaging that integrates with your POP displays.

With digital influence in-store growing 300% since 2012 (Deloitte), finding ways to evaluate your customer’s preferences online and marrying it with their instore experience is a must.

couple in kitchen with Mac researching recipes

Point of Consumption

The “foodie fan culture” is taking over YouTube. Millennials, in particular, are tuning in to watch videos that inspire their food sensibilities, demonstrate usage applications, and supply entertainment value. In fact, food channel subscriptions on YouTube grew by 280% last year according to a new study from Millward Brown Digital, Firefly, and Google. Whether it’s for a special occasion, holiday, or a simple everyday meal preparation, subscribers – particularly Millennials – are looking for their favorite food influencers for inspiration.

Just as much as this group loves to view food content, Millennials are also huge content creators. YouTube has continued to see a significant uptick in food-related User Generated Content (UGC) from this group over the past year. You’ll find UGC videos that demonstrate how to make a Whole 30 recipe, unboxing videos of HelloFresh home delivery meal kits, and basic how-to videos for how to cook an egg (or just about any other food ingredient). Through UGC videos, consumers are offering brands a glimpse into not just what they think and feel about a brand or product, but also how they prepare and consume their favorite foods.

Using YouTube as a platform for research is like having a window into your consumer’s kitchen. Be sure to audit the platform for content wherever your brand is mentioned and integrated. There are countless monitoring tools available. Check out Choosing the Best Social Media Tool for your Food Brand, for some great suggestions.

Point of Conversation

A quick search today reveals that there are well over 12M readers on Reddit interested in and talking about food. But, take a closer look at Subreddit groups and you’ll find that there are 119K specifically talking about health food, 64K who love BBQ and, another 32K who deem themselves the “Knights of Pineapple” and are obsessed with any and all products who champion their beloved fruit. The point is, these highly specialized online forums are readily available and provide a wealth of information. And, since consumers feel they’re in their native environment they tend to be less inhibited in their conversations and opinions about brands. This offers the patient marketer a very revealing and unique perspective on consumers.

With personal food interest and preferences being among the top sharing topics online, these conversations present a natural space for brands to research their target audiences. Starbucks has done a great job at leveraging these platforms to further connect with their younger consumers as we witnessed with their limited release of the Unicorn Frappuccino last year. The coffeehouse giant took inspiration from top trending forums and leaked the release of the Unicorn Frappuccino within its original Reddit following. Before we knew it, the #unicornfrappuccino fever set in on Instagram. The sugary yet highly photogenic concoction was only available in-stores for 5 days. It was said to have successfully reached the highly coveted Millennial audience, known for their enthusiastic use of photos and hashtags to capture the foods they love.

If you’re looking for your next big idea, consumers are revealing valuable perceptions about brands on highly specialized online forums like Subreddits and across social media channels. By monitoring these platforms you’ll find relevant opportunities for your brand to engage with trending topics. The options are as endless as your team’s creativity, so dive in and have a bit of fun. 

In Conclusion

Taking a balanced, human approach to food research versus relying on data alone uncovers more intimate details about your consumer’s preferences and behaviors along their path to purchase. Exploring where online and offline experiences converge through social media, online forums, and UGC content are all accessible means that food brands can leverage to enhance and validate their marketing efforts.

Only when you surround data with context does it become useful, relevant, and stand a chance of providing valuable insight. Going the extra mile to gather the subtle, yet very important information on consumer perceptions, purchase motivators, and behaviors narrow your focus and will lead you to better results for your brand.

Of course, the research process is forever fluid and requires constant redefinition to remain relevant and productive. As your team continues to improve and innovate its skill at listening, observing, and collecting information, the more optimized your entire research process will become.

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Jessica Stampe Account Executive EvansHardy+Young
Jessica Stampe, Sr. Account Executive

Jessica has developed a dynamic marketing skill set from her range of tech, non-profit, and teaching experience. She currently helps supervise the California Walnut business.